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Court Upholds Case Against VA Director in Health Care Scandal

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 10, 2019 9:00 AM

A veteran's health care director, caught in the crossfire of reports that veterans had died while waiting for care, lost the battle over his job with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

After being removed from his position, Lance Robinson challenged the decision before the Merit Systems Protection Board. In Robinson v. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

The appeals court said the board did not abuse its discretion in finding Robinson was negligent. For those who lost loved ones, that was an understatement.

30 Days to Get In

Robinson was the associate director of the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System. He was responsible for most of the administrative personnel there, including management of scheduling appointments at the Phoenix VA. According to court records, Robinson knew patients often waited more than 30 days to get in. According to the press, it was a scandal.

In 2014, Congress cited a report that said forty veterans died while waiting for openings. Investigators discovered that about 1,700 veterans had been waiting for more than 30 days, and the VA placed Robinson on administrative leave. Ultimately, he was removed from his office for negligent performance of his duties and other charges.

In his appeal, he argued that his discipline was not reasonable. The Federal Circuit disagreed. The panel said he should have done more to address the scheduling problem. "Instead, he took a hands-off approach to managing the scheduling problems at Phoenix VA despite knowing the severity of scheduling problems permeating the system," the Federal Circuit said. The panel said it also appeared Robinson acquiesced to the "scheduling improprieties," and failed to investigate.

Failure to Investigate

In one case, the judges noted, Robinson knew about a veteran who went untreated for eighteen months. In another case, Robinson received an email about a veteran who had just been to the emergency room. Nobody did anything about it for two months.

"Unfortunately, the veteran passed away before the Phoenix VA even called to schedule the follow-up appointment requested by the emergency physician," the appeals court said.

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